15 July 2009

Planning Down the Drain (EN)

I have ... a plan, sir.
Really, Baldrick? A cunning and subtle one?
Yessir.
As cunning as a fox who's just been appointed professor of cunning at Oxford University?

A couple of evenings ago, one of the news TV channels discussed the overall performance of our Government in a talk-show with at least half a dozen participants. I don't remember the TV channel or the participants, but I do remember the grade: 5.72 on a scale of 10--equivalent to a D or even D- on the American 4-point scale. What makes our Government (and I'm thinking all three branches thereof!) barely capable of getting a passing grade?!? I believe strongly it's the inability to plan, monitor and evaluate.

Of course, without proper planning, what could one monitor and/or evaluate?!? From this perspective, even that grade of 5.72 is questionable, because this Government has no plan! And they have no plan because we are not in the habit of planning, we are not educated to plan, we are not used to consider the virtues of planning! Back in December, I read through 2 drafts of the Cabinet's governing program, as well as the final version approved by Parliament: no clear objectives, no consideration to causal relations, no indication of resource and time allocation. As a result, our Cabinet "regularly" holds 2-3 emergency meetings per month, on top of the regular weekly meetings. Every year, the Supreme Council of Magistracy elects a new Chair, and I always read the candidates' intentions: same difference. The CSM weekly meetings tend to last for hours, failing to adopt strategic decisions that would advance reforms in the court system. Parliament was expected to publish its legislative agenda for the first session of this year some time in February--now we're waiting the same document for the second session, because the first one was never published, and now they're on vacation. The MPs incapacity to speed up adoption or rejection of legislation results in the Cabinet's pushing of more and more Ordinances... So, neither the Legislative, the Judiciary nor the Executive do plan :-(

Let's take a look at the effects of this inability to plan: The Cabinet adopts Emergency Ordinances without consultation, without cost-benefit analyses, without impact assessments--and you know the story from the discussion over the Codes. One effect is that more Emergency Ordinances are needed in order to correct flaws, as in the case of 4 such modifications to the public procurement law in just 6 months. Another effect is that such Emergency Ordinances are challenged with, and repealed by, the Constitutional Court, as was the case with the introduction, for civil servants working at the Government's General Secretariat, of the loyalty clause to the Prime Minister, instead of the Rule-of-Law. A third effect is that several ministers now consider the revocation by September of the minimum threshold for profit tax, just introduced a couple of months ago, or that wrong (non-)decisions may attract infringement procedures from the European Commission. Similarly, lack of planning is responsible for poor design of the Cabinet structure, and for poor control over budget disbursements, as we've just seen during the last month, when Parliament investigated how the Minister of Youth and Sports had lost (or embezzled) €600,000 around events organized for May 2--Youth Day. Ultimately, I believe that lack of planning is also responsible for deepening the effects in Romania of the global crisis--but I'll let someone else discuss these, as I'm not an expert.

President Băsescu identified this problem quite early this year, and called for a solution with the €20 billion loan from the IMF, effectively outsourcing the responsibility for Romania's governance overseas. Similarly, magistrates decided last week to ask for a continuance of the EU Cooperation and Verification Mechanism, which effectively outsources to Brussels the responsibility for Romania's Judiciary--whether Brussels accepts this responsibility or not, we'll find out on July 22: if they accept, they'll extend the MCV for another term of 1-3 years; if they don't, they'll recommend the activation of the safeguard clause! You'd think the Parliament has no such option?!? With respect to planning their own work, you're right, they don't; but with respect to fulfilling their oversight function, they've already done that: One example is CNI--the National Integrity Council, charged with overseeing the activity and strategy of ANI--the National Integrity Agency. Last month, ANI presented a document labeled "strategy for 2009," that only spells out an inventory of their legal attributions, instead of planning the best ways of achieving their objectives. As Parliament wouldn't be able to assess such a document, CNI will have to do the dirty job for them, and decide next week whether to approve or reject this document, already to blame for a 6 month delay :-(

But outsourcing is not a solution! When casting a vote, citizens expect those elected to lead the way, deliver on promises and improve the situation. Winning on false promises and then outsourcing the execution simply represent a giant farce! Especially when such course of action allows for an excuse on not improving the situation--either we didn't have enough money to pay for outsourcing, or the contractors were incapable to deliver. Just as playing by ear can't substitute virtuosity, but needs a lot of work and practice, I suggest the solution is to start planning properly--namely, consider objectives, resources, timelines, indicators, baselines and benchmarks, so that we be informed when asked to grade performance :-)

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